Retiring WPD captain, detective share about careers

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2023

If you could go back in time, what words of wisdom (or warnings) would you impart on your younger self about the career you chose? 

For retiring Washington Police Department Captain Ronnie Watson and retiring Detective Dean Watson, they’d warn the bright-eyed kids in front of them of the challenges they’d soon face, but balance it with stories of people who expressed gratitude for their help and that those stories made the job worth it. 

Ronnie will retire on Dec. 29 after serving 30 years with Washington Police Department (WPD). Dean’s last day will be Thursday, Nov. 30 after serving 15 years with Washington. He has been a sworn officer for 33 years, but is retiring with 27 years. He spent five of those 33 years working part-time. 

If you told Ronnie he would become a law enforcement officer a year prior to his swearing-in ceremony, he would have said you were “crazy.” 

He started as a mechanic fixing patrol cars for the City of Washington. Over time, he met police officers and built a positive rapport with them. Seeing the officers as good guys doing good work to help others, Ronnie was inspired to become one of them. He worked during the day then attended class at night until he graduated. 

“I got to know some of the guys and they were cool guys,” Ronnie said, “and I’m like, ‘well, these are good guys that are trying to do good things and they all seemed to have their head in the right place, their hear in the right place, and I was like, ‘you know, I could do that job.’” 

Dean, on the other hand, attended college at Wayne Community College where he had a roommate in the BLET program. Seeing his roommate go through the program encouraged him to join it. While visiting his roommate in Currituck County after graduation, he put in an application with the Elizabeth City Police Department on a Saturday and by the following weekend, he was working for the department.

“It was not a job I thought I’d ever get, but once I got in it – it gets in your blood,” Dean said. “Once it gets in your blood, it kind of stays with you.” 

When Ronnie and Dean started their careers in law enforcement, they saw more adults between the ages of 30 and 40 be arrested, but today, more juveniles are engaging in violent crime, they said. 

“It’s nowhere near like it used to be,” Dean said, when he compared crimes committed in the 1990’s versus today. He and Ronnie saw more cases of property theft when they started working. 

“Unfortunately…we’ve been dealing with more violence, people against people,” Dean said. In the last three years, WPD has responded to an increasing number of cases where young people are involved in “fighting, cutting and drive-bys.” In the past, these are crimes that residents would not hear about in a small town like Washington, Dean continued. 

“It’s stuff – you didn’t hear of it in a small town like this,” Dean said. 

In Ronnie’s opinion, the types of crime and those who commit them have changed over time due to a lack of discipline at home as well as a rise in social media’s popularity and certain video games that “desensitized” young people to violence. 

Ronnie and Dean have responded to thousands of cases throughout their careers and most remain in their memories.

For Dean, an unforgettable case happened in June of 2011 when three armed men from Person County stole more than $1.2 million from an armored Garda truck outside of a Bank of America branch at Washington Square Mall. The men disarmed two Garda Cash Logistics guards as they were servicing the bank’s ATM. Washington Police Department assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and State Bureau of Investigation. The men were arrested and sentenced to serve between 154 months to 252 months in prison. 

Ronnie is haunted by death cases he’s responded to – everything from homicides to natural death. He shared that it can be difficult handling death cases when the deceased was someone he knew. 

“In my tenure, I worked with a lot of death cases,” Ronnie said, “they always stick with you. Especially if you really get into where you actually know the person. For your investigation, you find out what was going on in their mind, in their life. That sticks with you more than anything.” 

Law enforcement officers have to learn how to cope with death differently than the average person, Ronnie said. “Most people, they may see a handful of dead bodies in their lifetime, and that’s at a funeral home. When you see it, what it really looks like, it’s a whole lot different.” 

Their desire and dedication to helping others motivated Ronnie and Dean to continue working despite some of the grim cases they encountered. Being able to help people was an enjoyable part of their careers. “When you get that one or two or three or four that come to you and say, ‘Remember me? You really made a difference in my life,’ it makes it all worth it,” Ronnie said. 

Dean’s “happy and come back to Earth moments” happen when the police department gives back to the community. Next month, the department will shop for toys to give to less fortunate families in Washington, and they will bring small gifts to elderly residents in assisted living facilities. 

For now, Ronnie and Dean have the same plan for retirement – to not have a plan. They look forward to having time to rest or fish. Some of Dean’s family members have already compiled a to-do list for him to start after Thursday.